A new report from Conservation International published today in Science documents that governments have removed more than 500,000 square kilometers from protected areas and downgraded the protection for an additional 1.65 million square kilometers, the majority of which are associated with industrial-scale development.

Brazil and U.S. Lead the Shrinkage:  Rollbacks by the U.S. and Brazil are of particular concern and are dismantling their countries’ reputations as conservation leaders.

  • President Trump’s downsizing of Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments were the largest reductions in U.S. history, reducing the protected areas by 85% and 51%  respectively and combined, the downsizing amounts to an area about twice the size of Rhode Island.
  • Brazil’s proposed rollbacks total an area about the size of North Dakota – and comprise 87% of the total proposed rollback area across the nine Amazonian countries.

Why This Matters:  This finding is alarming because the recent United Nations “extinction” report that found nearly 1 million species imperiled and one of the most significant causes is habitat loss.  And according to the study, the problem is getting worse — of the 3,700 rollbacks across more than 3,000 protected areas since 1872, 78% have taken place in the last eight years, between 2000-2018.  Conservative leaders in many nations, including the U.S., Australia, and Brazil, are not getting the message and allowing development to expand.

  • Bottom line:  We need protected areas to save biodiversity now more than ever.  Protecting thirty percent of the Earth by 2030 would do it, according to the Campaign for Nature.

By The Numbers Globally:

  • Australia: The report found more than 1,500 protected area changes, resulting in the removal of 13,000 km2 from conservation areas and undermining protection for an additional 400,000 km2.
  • Suriname and Guyana: The report found no enacted rollback events in Suriname or Guyana.
  • United Kingdom: The report found at least 61 rollback events covering 46,090 km2. All 61 rollbacks were the result of a 2015 authorization of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) below protected areas.
  • Cambodia: 120 rollbacks covering nearly 10,000 km2, most to authorize industrial agriculture within wildlife sanctuaries and national parks between 1996-2012.
  • Kenya: 144 rollbacks covering over 14,000 km2, most of which were downsizes to forest and game reserves.

The authors express alarm:

  • “The Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s most critical tools in the fight against climate change. This study demonstrates that legislation to conserve our rainforests doesn’t always translate into enduring protection. As we debate the future of the Amazon, in Brazil and across the region faced with a choice of either development or protection, we must understand the ecological and financial implications of downsizing protected areas and opening them up for development,” said Bruno Coutinho, PhD, Director of Knowledge Management, Conservation International Brazil and co-author.
  • “Lost protections can accelerate forest loss and carbon emissions – putting our climate and global biodiversity at greater risk,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, Conservation International Social Scientist, lead author of the report and PhD candidate at George Mason University.

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